OR, on the other hand, you hear an explanation that sounds logical or typical, so you never question it, but just accept it, as is?
Well, here's a "fact" I never used to question, but should have--the idea that immigrants' names were arbitrarily changed by callous officials at Ellis Island.
It's easy to believe, isn't it, especially with families from Eastern Europe, with all those diacritical marks and czezc's--I mean, who can pronounce names like that? And we all know those immigration officials were crazy with power, obviously. "Czeczchski? No one will say that right. From now on, you will be Ignatz JONES." By the time poor Iggy realized what happened, he was truly stuck with an awful, banal name forevermore. [Head shake] Sooo sad.
But think about it. Our people came from Austria, Poland, Luxemburgh and Germany...five or six kids with parents, on the way to America. (Oh, and we were all here well before Ellis opened, in 1892). 'We' were Roman Catholics, with home churches and parish priests back in Guschwitz, Oberschlagles, Schoenfeld and Horrenberg. Baptisms, marriages, confirmations and first communions were all recorded by that priest, in the parish books. That's what proved who you were.
Probably no church member--Catholic or otherwise--left Europe without documentation from their parish if they could help it. Remember, the sacraments were building blocks, so receiving first communion depended on having been baptized, and confirmation depended on those other two, and marriage, etc. After all, God knew you by name (and, by your sins ☺)...but YOU had to prove you and your family were Catholics in good standing to your NEW parish.Those documents had your family name written many times. You showed them to buy tickets for the ocean voyage, and to the purser on board who copied it into the ships list. You showed them to buy train tickets too, I suppose, and for validation when needed.
However, if an immigrant wanted to change his name and didn't care to be affiliated with a church, I imagine he could simply give any name he wanted. I bet it didn't happen often, tho.
(Cute illustrations needed to be used somewhere ☺)